John Grogan archive: Owning big, cuddly lab gives one paws


As the owners of a lovable but deeply disturbed Labrador retriever whose brain capacity hovers somewhere below that of an inchworm, my wife and I find consolation in the classified ads.

Our dog, Marley, has admirable intentions but he suffers that unfortunate combination of genetics that plagues so many large canines: too much brawn, too little brain.

My wife calls him "desperately happy."If he were a child, the doctor surely would have prescribed Ritalin by now.

One day he made it snow inside our home when he mistook a feather pillow for a masked intruder. Another day we came home to catch him on top of the washing machine dancing around on his hind legs.

This summer, he ripped the molding off the door frame during a thunderstorm on the apparent theory that lightning can't zap you if you're chewing on a jagged piece of wood with large nails sticking out of it.

When the dog gets us down, we take solace in the "pets" section of the classifieds. It's like having our own support group.

Nearly every day brings another ad like this one: "Lab, yellow. 1 year old. Loves people. Needs big yard. Free to good home."

We just smile. We know the score.

A good dog is hard to find

The people placing the ad try to make their dog sound like the Second Coming of Lassie, but whom do they think they're fooling? If the dog was so great, they wouldn't be dumping him for free.

And those words, "loves people," we know what that's all about. Our dog loves people, too. Real meaning: "Humps dinner guests."

Needs big yard? Speaking from experience, allow me to translate: "Needs strong tranquilizers."

When it comes to foisting lemon dogs on an unsuspecting public, there is an alarming amount of willful misrepresentation out there. After a year of chewed shoes, slobber showers and all-night tail chases, the owners are raising the white flag. They're admitting defeat in man's age-old battle to hold dominion over beast. But they don't want you to know that.

Given the deceptive advertisements out there, I feel it is my duty to provide you, the buying public, with a consumer's guide to choosing the slighly used Man's Best Friend.

I've developed the following glossary of code words to watch out for when shopping for the second-hand dog. Each term is followed by what you can really expect when you get Rover home.

Truth in advertising

"Spirited" - Completely out of control.

"Unique personality" - Drinks from toilet, flings water from jowls.

"Playful" - A couch shredder.

"Fiercely loyal" - A biter.

"Good watchdog" - An all-night barker.

"Good with kids" - History of swallowing Lego pieces, requiring costly surgery.

"Man's best friend" - Insists on sleeping between you and your spouse.

"Super affectionate!" - More drool than you could ever imagine.

"Robust" - Will eat you into bankruptcy.

"Needs loving master" - Needs a saint with the patience of Job.

"Has had obedience training" - ... and it didn't do a lick of good.

"Neutered" - ... in a futile attempt at behavior modification.

"One of a kind" - ... and it's a good thing.

"AKC purebred" - All that inbreeding explains a lot.

"Constant companion" - Always under foot.

"Cuddly" - Ninety pounds and thinks he's a lap dog.

"Best offer" - How much do we need to pay you to take this crazy hound?

If all else fails, you might want to play it safe. Forget the dog. Buy a goldfish.